By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Every Sunday while serving in Canton, Mississippi, Sister Helen Strohman and other members of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary gathered to share a meal with Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA, and other religious sisters from Jackson, Mississippi.
The communities took turns hosting the meal. “Every other Sunday they came out to our house,” Sister Strohman said. On alternating Sundays, the Humility sisters visited the FSPA (Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration) convent. Many of the Humility of Mary sisters who met Sister Bowman have since passed away.
Sister Bowman (1937-1990), is a Servant of God, which is a title for a candidate for sainthood whose cause is still under investigation. She is one of six African-American Catholics under consideration for sainthood.
Sister Strohman, who turned 90 last month, worked in literacy and educational programs in Mississippi and taught in the Madison County Jail there for a number of years. She moved from Mississippi to the Humility of Mary Center about four months ago.
A big smile crossed her face when Sister Strohman talked about a few memories she could recall of Sister Bowman. “She was not quiet — she was very energetic. She was very popular.” Despite her popularity, Sister Strohman felt Sister Bowman was just like any other religious sister — there to do their ministry. “Some were jealous” of Sister Bowman’s popularity. “I was not. She was a friend to everyone.”
Sister Strohman recalled a gift that Sister Bowman gave her — a waste can. Why? She doesn’t know the answer but said Sister Bowman always made sure others had basic items. Sister Bowman converted to Catholicism at age 9 and entered the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Wisconsin when she was 15, according to the religious order’s website. The FSPA’s first African-American member, she was an educator who promoted cultural awareness about African-American religious heritage through talks and singing. Sister Bowman “wore her tribal clothing” many times, Sister Strohman said.
The Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi began the cause for sainthood for Sister Bowman in 2018. The next step is the designation of venerable, followed by blessed, then saint. Sister Strohman believes Sister Bowman would make a good saint whom others could look up to. Sister Strohman doesn’t know when sainthood might happen but she believes many of the other CHMs who knew Sister Bowman would likely agree to sainthood for her.